Matthew Greenwood, a postgraduate student in genetics, is the recipient of the Faculty of Science's Dean's medal for continuous excellent performance.
The medal, cast in solid silver, is awarded annually to an honours student who scores the highest average percentage throughout both the BSc and BSc Honours programmes. Greenwood completed both his BSc and BScHons-degrees with distinction, and is currently pursuing an MSc in genetics.
Greenwood, a former learner from Cannons Creek Independent School in Pinelands, Cape Town, says he was set on studying science since he was ten years old: “My older sister's partner, who was studying towards a PhD in microbiology at the time, introduced me to some basic scientific facts and concepts, and I became immediately interested."
His big break came in Grade 3 when, with the support of his mother, Miranda Greenwood, he obtained a scholarship at Cannons Creek Independent School based on early academic merit. Despite moving around a lot, from Kraaifontein to Thornton and later Athlone, he matriculated in 2014 and was offered a bursary from Stellenbosch University.
Greenwood recalls that his first year at university wasn't all plain sailing: “I failed my first Physics 114 tutorials, and my Physics 114 early assessment test by a large margin. I distinctly remember struggling with the idea of switching courses before the deadline. In the end, I decided to buckle down. I asked for help and started to put more personal hours into the subject. It was really as simple as realising that university requires consistency, determination and hard work."
As an undergraduate BSc-student, he also struggled with the concept of postgraduate studies: “I think undergraduate students do not understand what it means to progress to postgraduate studies. This lack of understanding makes one question the value of completing an undergraduate degree.
“Knowing why you need to complete certain subjects can be extremely helpful for developing internal motivational skills. To gain that understanding, you need to do job shadowing and internships and read up on future employment and postgraduate study opportunities.
“Also, having the support of a network of friends with similar academic goals can do wonders for productivity," he adds.
As an MSc student in genetics, he is currently discovering new fields, such as data analysis: “I'm finding that exploring existing data is far more satisfying than its collection or generation!"
He plans to complete his MSc by December 2020, and would then like to pursue a PhD in genetics in Sweden or Switzerland.
Photo: Stefan Els